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Playboy spread brought possibilities, and parties, for ND's only playmate

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- When the June 1987 issue of Playboy hit the stands, Carmen Berg's secret was out. The 23-year-old Bismarck native had not even told her parents the magazine would feature her as its nude centerfold. "It was so conservativ...

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A recent picture of Carmen Berg, 52. Special to the Forum

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- When the June 1987 issue of Playboy hit the stands, Carmen Berg's secret was out.

The 23-year-old Bismarck native had not even told her parents the magazine would feature her as its nude centerfold.

"It was so conservative, and there was a lot of backlash from North Dakotans from the beginning," said Berg, now 52.

She was the first and only Playmate of the Month to hail from North Dakota. And she'll remain the state's only contribution to the nude playmate pantheon, as Playboy's current issue is its last to include photos of naked women.

"At first, when I became a playmate, you know, people thought negatively and they thought that it's pornography and that I am that type of person," Berg said recently by phone from Beverly Hills, where she lives with her husband.

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But after she did some interviews with local media, she said, people started to embrace her.

"It didn't take long, and then I would come back to North Dakota for different autograph sessions," she said.

What followed was a lengthy modeling career, a job working for a plastic surgeon, and her current career: real estate agent.

Through it all, she said, Playboy was a blessing. It helped her win connections, and fellow playmates and Hugh Hefner have been like family to her. Plus, she's still invited to all the parties.

That's why Berg is saddened by the coming changes at the magazine founded in 1953, a move the magazine hopes will distinguish itself in the age of easy-to-access Internet pornography.

When the March issue is released, the first to show off Playboy's newfound modesty, it's bound to be a downer for Berg. She believes the nudes had artistic and social merit.

"It helped to elevate women to be themselves, whether they wanted to be very sexual, if they wanted to be very conservative; either way, it's fine," she said. "They don't have to be locked into a certain way."

'One of those girls'

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It started with a few Polaroids.

Berg, 20 years old and working as a trainer at the Bismarck YMCA, had her boyfriend snap a few pictures of her, then she sent them to Playboy headquarters.

"We would go to people's homes and there would be Playboy," she recalled. "All the guys would always say, 'Look at those girls,' and I'd think, 'I want to be one of those girls.' "

She never told her parents anything about it, even after Playboy called up and told her she would be flown to Chicago for a test shooting.

Three years later, the issue hit the stands, and some of the reaction was negative. Her parents "were very shocked, very shocked," she recalled. But they got over it. "They came around," she said.

It took interviews with the Bismarck Tribune and KYFR to convince people in the area that Berg, a 1981 graduate of Century High School, hadn't "turned into this crazy person," she said.

Berg appeared several more times in the magazine.

Joining the Playboy family

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Being Playmate of Month has its perks.

Berg said it helped jump-start a modeling career that lasted until she was 29.

"It opened many doors for me, and I see it with my other Playmate sisters," she said. "If they present it in the right way, you're able to meet very affluent people, you're welcomed into different social circles and if you use your head, you can use it and really move forward with your life."

You also get to party at the Playboy Mansion, which may not be hosting parties for much longer because it was recently listed for sale.

Berg lived at the mansion for a time. She said she was "freaked out" in the beginning, but found that she was never pressured to drink or smoke.

"I was very conservative," she said, which was fine because the philosophy at the mansion was that "you don't have to do anything you don't want to."

"They respected me how I wanted to be and I didn't criticize how others wanted to be," Berg said.

The Playboy family, she said, has been with her through breakups and career changes.

Berg speaks highly of Playboy boss Hugh Hefner, who she met a few months before her first pictures were published in the magazine. The two clicked over their shared love for animals.

Even Berg's 90-year-old mother likes Heffner.

"She would go up to the mansion and actually her and Hefner are the same age, so over the years they've had little chats here and there," Berg said.

Nudes have merit

Eliminating nude pictures from Playboy is a mistake, Berg said.

"I believe that the pictures that Playboy creates are very artistic and so completely different than the pornography that you see on the Internet," she said. "To me, it's art."

But more than that, the nude pictures helped women define their own sexuality, she said.

Hefner, Berg said, "has done so much for women and changing the way people think, and I really believe been on the forefront for women to embrace their sexuality and to be open about being sexual, where before, if you look back, it was pretty conservative for women."

Berg ran a fashion photography studio before moving in 1997 to Los Angeles, where she worked for a plastic surgeon.

For the past decade, she's been working as a real estate agent in Beverly Hills, and clients still like to bring up her connection to Playboy.

"Most of the time, they want me to get them into a party," she said.

Related Topics: BISMARCK
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